Ford is taking to the sky with software developed to interlink a drone and an F-150. The project, co-developed with drone maker DJI, is intended for search and rescue operations for the United Nations.

Though it’s a niche use, a UN rescue team would drive an F-150 as deep into a disaster area as possible, such as a tsunami or earthquake, then launch the drone from the cargo bed. The drone would be controlled via the F-150’s infotainment screen and the driver’s smart phone. Once in the air, the drone would send images and video of the scene while looking for victims. Once spotted, close-up shots of victims are send back, helping rescue teams assess their condition.

Though search and rescue operations is at the forefront, other uses such as forestry, construction, bridge inspections, and agriculture could benefit from the F-150 drone platform.

There’s only one problem – neither Ford nor DJI have the software to facilitate commutations between the truck, drone, and cloud. That’s why Ford and DJI are kicking off a developer’s challenge with a $100,000 price for the winning software. The challenge is part of the Ford Smart Mobility, a program within the automaker’s Ford Developer Program, which was founded in 2013.

“At Ford, we are driving innovation in every part of our business to help make people’s lives better,” said Ken Washington, Ford vice president of Research and Advanced Engineering. “Working with DJI and the United Nations, there is an opportunity to make a big difference with vehicles and drones working together for a common good.”

If you’d like a crack at the prize money, check out the entry page here.

Continue reading for the full story.

Why it matters

Ford has committed itself to devoting time and resources to furthering the high-tech side of the auto industry. From innovated computer coding to drones flying from F-150s, Ford seems set of breaking new ground in the tech world. It’s hard to imagine Ford ever making money on this project, so it seems the automaker is using the project as a community service outlet. Nice job, guys.

It’s probable the U.S. Military would love this type of software, as well. Imagine troops being able to locate enemy combatants from the safety of an armored vehicle while a drone does the searching from above. The military already has systems like this in place, like with the Predator drone for instance, but commanders with dwindling budgets would probably welcome smaller, less costly systems.

Ford F-150

2015 Ford F-150 - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review on the Ford F-150 here.

Press Release

Ford and DJI are imagining a world in which vehicles and drones become more capable and efficient working together, and are announcing a challenge to develop the software to make that possible.

Working with DJI, the world leader in professional-grade drone systems and software, Ford invites innovators to participate in the DJI Developer Challenge to create drone-to-vehicle communications using Ford SYNC® AppLink or OpenXC. The goal is a surveying system for the United Nations Development Program to inspect emergency zones inaccessible to even the most versatile vehicles.

Ford And DJI Developing Drone-to-Car Communications
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The technology could allow United Nations first responders to earthquakes or tsunamis to quickly deploy drones able to survey and map hardest-hit areas – all from the cab of an F-150.

“At Ford, we are driving innovation in every part of our business to help make people’s lives better,” said Ken Washington, Ford vice president, Research and Advanced Engineering. “Working with DJI and the United Nations, there is an opportunity to make a big difference with vehicles and drones working together for a common good.”

Applicants to the surveying system challenge can visit http://developer.dji.com/challenge2016. The challenge winner receives $100,000.

The mobility challenge is part of Ford Smart Mobility, the plan to take the company to the next level in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, the customer experience, and data and analytics.

Ford F-150 serves as drone base station
Developers are tasked with creating software that would allow an F-150 and a drone to communicate in real time. The United Nations’ rapidly deployable surveying system ideally would work like this:

In a disaster, an emergency response team would drive an F-150 as far as possible into an emergency zone caused by an earthquake or tsunami.

Using the Ford SYNC® 3 touch screen, the driver could identify a target area and launch a drone by accessing an app projected through Ford SYNC AppLink. The drone would follow a flight path over the zone, capturing video and creating a map of survivors with associated close-up pictures of each.

Using the driver’s smartphone, the F-150 would establish a real-time link between the drone, the truck and the cloud, so vehicle data can be shared. Data will be relayed to the drone so the driver can continue to a new destination, and the drone will catch up and dock with the truck.

Developers will be able to use vehicle data available through SYNC AppLink or the OpenXC platform to create a seamless drone-to-vehicle communications experience.

Though this challenge has a specific mission, the software eventually could allow drone-to-vehicle applications in agriculture, forestry, construction, bridge inspection, search and rescue, and many other work environments in which vehicles are space-, height- or terrain-limited.

Ford Developer Program
This developed challenge for drone software is just the latest example of how Ford is driving innovation through its Ford Developer Program, launched at the CES in 2013.

By leveraging Ford AppLink and OpenXC, the company is inviting developers from across the globe to innovate with Ford in the automotive industry’s first end-to-end developer ecosystem.

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